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Adam Reiser, sales director, North America at Opendatasoft, explains how cities can liberate data from individual departmental silos so it can easily be used by all.

Thanks to falling costs, increasing capabilities and improving connectivity, cities have successfully rolled out extensive Internet of Things (IoT) sensor networks. At the heart of creating smart cities, these sensors cover a wide range of use cases, from mobility and public safety to flood warnings and energy monitoring.

Sensors produce vast amounts of data. This means effectively managing, using, and sharing this information is crucial if cities are to become truly smart and data-driven. Cities therefore require the right platform to collect and make data available to all.

The platform to collect data in the smart city

Cities have been deploying sensors for many years, normally for specific applications such as traffic management through cameras or air quality monitoring through pollution sensors. What has changed is the scale of deployments – thanks to drops in price, sensors are now being implemented for more and more use cases, by more and more departments. This can lead to issues around the data sensors produce. It can be trapped within individual departments, rather than shared, and it can be difficult to process, analyse, and understand the sheer volume of data that smart city sensors are delivering, often on a real-time basis.

A software platform enabling sensor data to be centralised, enriched, analysed, and then shared through data portals is necessary to operational success. This allows information to be used internally by employees and elected officials and externally through open data portals and APIs that make it available to citizens, researchers, businesses and developers. Data is liberated from individual departmental silos so it can easily be used by all.

This data portal platform should be easy to administer while providing robust data governance and security features to build trust from citizens and users. It must be able to connect to all types of sensor data, whether directly or through other systems – and be able to enrich it with other information sources, such as geolocation and weather data. Once collected and enriched, data has to be usable and made available in a range of different, standard formats for different audiences.

For example, citizens might respond best to map-based graphical data visualisations, whereas developers will want data delivered automatically through APIs. Elected officials might prefer data stories putting information in context, while employees could find spreadsheets most useful to their daily work. Data can also feed into deeper analytical tools, such as digital twins, which enable city planners to better understand the current environment and model future changes before they are made.

Effectively sharing sensor data – successful use cases from across the globe

Sensors are at the heart of a number of key smart city initiatives, including mobility, sustainability, citizen experience, risk management and improving efficiency. The following use case from Opendatasoft customers highlight the benefits of putting in place a platform to collect, enrich and share sensor data on a city-wide basis.

Data-sharing to underpin smart city mobility

Sensor data is essential to successful mobility ecosystems. For example, intelligent traffic management systems can use camera data to monitor for potential congestion and re-route vehicles to avoid incidents. Intelligent parking systems can direct drivers to the nearest free parking space, shortening journeys and therefore reducing emissions. Pedestrian sensors monitor areas for congestion and can be used to optimise flows across the city, with data used to show where infrastructure (such as crossings and sidewalks) needs to be upgraded to maximise safety and improve journeys.

All of this reduces congestion, improves transportation efficiency, enhances overall urban mobility, and improves the environment by lowering transport emissions.

Showing the potential of data, Bologna in Italy has created its Il respiro di Bologna (the breath of Bologna) data story. Part of its drive to build a 15-minute city, it brings together data from multiple sources on its Opendatasoft data portal, to show different points of social and cultural interest on a map, including current travel times between them and available mobility services.

Using data to deliver a more sustainable environment

Cities are at the forefront of driving decarbonisation and ensuring that residents live and work in a cleaner, pollution-free environment. Sensors are key to this in two main ways. First, they can be used to monitor the city’s own energy usage and emissions, showing progress towards net zero targets, with data collected and shared through open data portals.

Second, they can monitor the wider environment, such as air quality across the city, with information then used to target improvement efforts. For example, if sensors show pollution caused by traffic is above safe limits on certain roads, plans can be put in place to divert vehicles or to encourage the use of other forms of transport on these routes.

Harnessing sensor data also helps cities achieve the delicate balance between protecting the environment and encouraging growth. For example, the Western Parkland Councils area is one of the fastest growing parts of Australia, with its population expected to rise from one million people in 2020 to 1.7 million by 2036.

Its eight local councils have therefore established the Western Parkland City Sensor Network Project – a shared, scalable sensing network, data-sharing platform, and data governance processes enabling them to measure population increases and the impact of development and urban growth on the environment. Data is now collected from environmental sensors (measuring soil moisture, air quality, weather stations, water quality and noise levels), movement and counting technologies (including people/device counters), and CCTV and thermal cameras.

All of this data is collected via the Opendatasoft platform and then shared internally and made publicly available via APIs and dashboards. Through the project, the councils have created a connected, smart city built on data. This enables them to minimise the environmental impact of development by monitoring more than four million monthly data points, maximise the return of economic development initiatives by collecting people and vehicle movement data, and measure the effectiveness of projects, all while streamlining council operations and enhancing service to customers.

Also in Australia, the City of Greater Geelong has installed sensors across the city’s Eastern Gardens to monitor the habitat and behaviour of the endangered grey-headed flying fox. These record temperature and humidity patterns across the gardens and between preferred bat roosting sites. This information, published on the open data portal of the City of Greater Geelong, helps better understand how climate change is impacting bat behaviour and roosting patterns over time and will help to inform protection measures across the country.

Delivering a better citizen experience

Today’s increasingly tech-literate citizens want their cities to provide them with a seamless, high-quality experience making it easy for them to interact with their council and the environment around them. In fact, citizen experience is becoming one of the key reasons people choose to live in specific cities or towns. Sharing sensor data through portals and apps gives citizens a clear picture of what is happening across the city, encouraging engagement and demonstrating transparency around council activities.

Demonstrating how data can optimise the experience for citizens, Australian council Randwick has created what claims to be the world’s first “smart beach”. By bringing together different types of sensor data from Coogee and Marouba beaches in the city, it has created an Opendatasoft-based dashboard that displays everything from air and water temperature, tide times and water safety information to the availability of parking spaces, BBQs, and beachside lockers.

Better managing risk in a changing world

Cities face a wide range of challenges around the health and safety of their residents. Sensors provide the vital data that can then be enriched and shared to provide focused responses, improved transparency and early warning for citizens, businesses, and emergency services.

For example, the North Carolina town of Cary launched an innovative smart city project using sensors to analyse wastewater for traces of opioids. This not only provided a more detailed picture of the issue of opioid addiction in the town, but also helped target actions to where they would deliver best results. The approach has now been adopted by other cities, both for opioids and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to its location at the heart of three river basins, Cary is prone to flooding because of stormwater surges. To provide an early warning system and to predict flooding, it has installed IoT water sensors and rain gauges across the town. The water sensors send alerts when levels hit a certain threshold, and the gauges provide minute-by-minute information on rainfall. This enables Cary officials to make faster, better informed decisions such as closing roads or greenways, rerouting traffic to prevent drivers from encountering floodwaters. All of this data is centralised in the town’s Opendatasoft data portal, where it can easily be accessed, shared and understood by all relevant stakeholders, including citizens and council staff.

Improving efficiency for cities and municipalities

Cities face a constant need to deliver a greater range of services while staying within budget. This means they must focus on efficiency and examine how to reduce costs without impacting service levels.

As part of its smart city programme, the Town of Morrisville is embracing smart technology and data to deliver enhanced services that attract and retain citizens and businesses. Situated at the heart of the North Carolina Research Triangle, it has rolled out a number of sensor-based smart city projects. For example, it uses flood and ground moisture sensors to trigger the automatic closure of soccer fields if they are too wet for play, with information automatically displayed on digital signs, its smart city dashboard, as well as emailed to players and coaches.

The Town is also increasing efficiency while focusing on innovation. It has recently introduced 3D-printed sensors into its public trash cans. These automatically detect when trash cans are nearly full and require emptying. Previously, monitoring trash can status required four staff to drive around the town, taking two to three hours per day, and creating unnecessary transport emissions.

Commenting on the smart city programme, Billy Whitehead, smart city programme manager, Town of Morrisville said: “We want to use technology to enhance the lives of our citizens and the performance of our staff. That means becoming a data-driven, community-focused town. Data will drive everything in the future, so we want to make it available for everyone to use.”

The use of sensors is growing across cities and towns of all sizes, generating increasing volumes of information. However, to gain the full benefit of this data and become truly smart, cities need to ensure that this data is shared effectively internally and externally with all audiences. This requires a strong data management platform to collect, enrich, visualise, and share sensor data in ways that meet the needs of different audiences. Only then will cities be able to make sense of their sensor data, unlocking its power to meet their current and future objectives.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Adam Reise

Quelle/Source: Smart Cities World, 17.08.2023

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